Victorian America’s Brown Betty

Victorian America’s Brown Betty

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. Image: Apple Brown Betty Vintage Recipe, courtesy of Pinterest, original to HappyMoneySaver.com

Photo of Vintage Apple Brown Betty, courtesy of Pinterest. Original to HappyMoneySaver.com.

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Today’s home bakers might have heard of “brown Betty,” and may remember grandma’s recipe too. But if you’re like me, you’ve never made one. I’ve not tasted Brown Betty, either. Yet In my imagination the texture and flavors are easy to conjure.

While we explore Victorian America‘s Brown Betty recipes, I’ll share a variety. These Victorian gems date from the mid-nineteenth century to the turn of the twentieth.

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Brown Betty: The Teapot

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. Brown Betty Teapot for sale on Amazon.

Brown Betty Teapot for sale on Amazon.

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Tea lovers will recognize the Brown Betty teapot out of Staffordshire. In the late seventeenth century, red clay was discovered in Britain’s Stoke-on-Trent, which subsequently became a favorite. Ceramic made with this red clay held the heat well. Of less importance, the shape of these teapots began more like a coffee pot, becoming rounded in the nineteenth century. Their iconic appearance and name mandate inclusion in any discussion of Victorian-era “Brown Betty.”

In fact, Brown Betty teapots have nothing to do with the dessert known as Brown Betty. Beyond, perhaps, both on the table at tea time.

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Brown Betty: The Dessert

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. Photo of Apple Brown Betty, courtesy of RecipesTips.com

Apple Brown Betty, photo courtesy of RecipesTips.com

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Victorian-era housekeepers (that is, mothers, wives) took home economy seriously. One hallmark of this Victorian-era attitude, for instance, was the use of every food scrap. Today, bread crumbs are indeed swept into the trash. That is to say cooks prefer cardboard canisters of commercially prepared bread crumbs.

On the contrary, Victorian cooks diligently reserved bread crumbs for all kinds of meal preparation.

Beyond home economy, Victorian-era Americans craved abundance. They sought this social ideal chiefly for all the middle class represented: stability, respectability, and comfort. To explain, the middle-class had the luxury of a varied menu. These menus almost always included dessert. Why? Because dessert meant abundance!

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What, or Who is Brown Betty Named For?

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Victorian-era Cook Book author Eliza Leslie identified (1849) that Brown Betty was also known as Pan Dowdy or Apple Bread Pudding.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. Miss Leslie's Complete Cookery, 1853 edition: Apple Bread Pudding is known as Brown Betty and Pan Dowdy.

Miss Leslie’s Complete Cookery, 1853 edition: Apple Bread Pudding is known as Brown Betty and Pan Dowdy.

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Plenty today view “brown Betty” as racial–chiefly because an enslaved person named Betty, purportedly, invented this dish. Viewed through a twenty-first century lens, yes, I’d agree. Nevertheless, mid- to late-nineteenth century folks lived with a world view rooted in racism. Today we see the error and inappropriateness of this… however that’s today speaking.

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Brown, as in the color. Notice how frequently these vintage recipes note “bake until brown.” Could the name source be so simple?

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Even more theories abound. In contrast, the dish was named by a queen, for a queen:

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. Name of "Brown Betty" attributed to Queen Elizabeth I. Salina Daily Republican of Salina, Kansas, 20 May 1892.

Name of “Brown Betty” attributed to Queen Elizabeth I. Salina Daily Republican of Salina, Kansas, 20 May 1892.

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“Queen Ann was a famous cook,” and “named that fine old apple pudding, ‘brown Betty,’ after Queen Elizabeth” is presented above as a quip. The tale is buried within discussion of Queen Ann style architecture and things that seem deadly wrong with a particular home.

Yet doesn’t this tale seem plausible?

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Victorian-America’s Brown Betty Recipes

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Basic use-it-up ingredients for a Brown Betty include:

  • bread crumbs
  • apple slices
  • cinnamon and/or nutmeg
  • butter
  • sugar (white or brown)
  • lemon juice and a bit of lemon zest if apples aren’t naturally tart
  • water
  • molasses
  • wine

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Vintage recipes reflect regional preferences and availability, too. One calls for dried peaches. Another, fresh blackberries. The economical dish is similar to bread pudding, but without the custard. Moisture comes from the apples and butter, and, of course, from added water.

Here are several Victorian American Brown Betty recipes, listed in order of publication. Variations on the Brown Betty theme appear in newspapers in addition to vintage cook books. 

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. "Brown Betsey Apple Pudding" from Every Lady's Cook Book, 1854.

“Brown Betsey Apple Pudding,” Every Lady’s Cook Book, 1854.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. Receipt published in The Sunbury Gazette of Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 15 December 1860.

Brown Betty Receipt published in The Sunbury Gazette of Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 15 December 1860.

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The next one, dated 1873, surely argues for economy. “The ‘Brown Betty’ here described is very good, quickly prepared, and utilizes scraps of bread that are often wasted.”

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. Economical use of bread in Brown Betty dessert: The Osage County Chronicle of Burlingame, Kansas, 14 February 1873.

Economical use of bread in Brown Betty dessert: The Osage County Chronicle of Burlingame, Kansas, 14 February 1873. The same recipe made its way into The Superior Times of Superior, Wisconsin, May 17, 1873.

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Next: Dried Peach Brown Betty, published in Kansas Farmer (Topeka, Kansas), 1878. Undoubtedly, this recipe is a fine example of flexibile Victorian baking.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. Recipe for Dried Peach Brown Betty, published in Kansas Farmer of Topeka, Kansas, April 3, 1878.

Recipe for Dried Peach Brown Betty. Kansas Farmer of Topeka, Kansas, April 3, 1878.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. Recipe from Common Sense in the Household, 1884.

Brown Betty Recipe from Common Sense in the Household, 1884.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. The Homemade Cook Book, 1885.

The Homemade Cook Book, 1885: Brown Betty Recipe.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. "Apple Pudding," a Brown Betty recipe by another name. Published in Woman Suffrage Cook Book, 2nd Edition, 1886, copyright Hattie A. Burr.

“Apple Pudding,” a Brown Betty recipe by another name. Woman Suffrage Cook Book, 2nd Edition, 1886, copyright Hattie A. Burr.

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Likewise, this “use-it-up”-inspired Oatmeal Brown Betty recipe calls for leftover oatmeal. (Or ceraline, or cracked wheat cereal.) In other words, instead of bread crumbs. Victorian-era economy, naturally!

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. Oatmeal Brown Betty Recipe from The Muncie Daily Morning News of Muncie, Indiana. April 6, 1888.

Oatmeal Brown Betty Recipe from The Muncie Daily Morning News of Muncie, Indiana. April 6, 1888.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. Recipe from The Times of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. July 14, 1894.

Recipe for Brown Betty from The Times of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. July 14, 1894.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. A Good Brown Betty with wine. The Topeka Daily Capital of Topeka, Kansas, 16 November 1895.

A Good Brown Betty made with wine, though sometimes specifically for children. The Topeka Daily Capital of Topeka, Kansas. 16 November 1895.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. From Ladies Home Cook Book, 1896.

From Ladies Home Cook Book, 1896, Brown Betty Recipe.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. From The Dayton Herald of Dayton, Ohio, a Brown Betty Recipe. Dated September 29, 1899.

The Dayton Herald of Dayton, Ohio, a Brown Betty Recipe. Dated September 29, 1899.

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This Brown Betty variation (Kentucky Receipt Book) calls for blackberries and allspice. Specifically, “apples may be used instead of blackberries.” This one suggests serving with hard sauce,  naturally.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. Recipe published in Kentucky Receipt Book by Mary Harris Frazer, published 1903.

Recipe published in Kentucky Receipt Book by Mary Harris Frazer, 1903.

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Victorian-era Brown Betty Tips and Toppings

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Beyond simple recipes, baking tips such as this Brown Betty solution were popular:

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. Baking Tip for Brown Betty: add a little molasses to increase moisture. From Oakland Tribune of Oakland, California, October 30, 1897.

Baking Tip for Brown Betty: add a little molasses to increase moisture. From Oakland Tribune of Oakland, California, October 30, 1897. This tip was reprinted nationwide by many different newspapers besides.

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Victorian-era recipes often suggested a sauce or topping also. For instance, Brown Betty is to be served with:

  • milk
  • sugar and cream (e.g., sweetened cream)
  • hard sauce
  • sweet sauce
  • a liquid sauce
  • wine sauce
  • butter and sugar sauce

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Accordingly, an 1895 Brown Betty Pudding Sauce recipe:

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America's Brown Betty. Pudding Sauce for Brown Betty, a recipe published in Wayne County Herald of Honesdale, Pennsylvania on May 9, 1895. (Credited to Harper's Bazar [sic])

Pudding Sauce for Brown Betty. Recipe from Wayne County Herald of Honesdale, Pennsylvania, May 9, 1895. (Credited to Harper’s Bazar [sic])

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Hooray for Brown Betty

 

To summarize, Victorian America craved middle-class abundance. In order to revel in that ideal, for instance, menus included dessert. Household economy dictated that in the end nothing could go to waste. Not wrinkled apples, leftover oatmeal, or crumbs of stale bread.

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Invitation

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Do you remember Brown Betty? Have you baked one?

Please scroll down and comment.

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